What a shock it was way back in March 2020 to hear that Masses would be cancelled, even St Patrick’s Day. What about Easter, we asked? We understood the gravity of the situation with the virus but found it hard to process.

When the doors remained closed for Lent and Easter 2020, there was sadness. Sadness too for those bereaved families who had to keep  numbers in check when they needed support most. There was a palpable lonesomeness around funerals. First Holy Communion and Confirmation dates came and went, as did other liturgies and prayer services.

As time moved slowly forward, it was with joy we heard in June 2020 that the diocese would offer training for the safe opening of churches. We were blessed to have many volunteers who answered the call and soon had willing ushers, sanitisers, cleaners, car park stewards and gatekeepers trained, masked and sanitised, ready to move into action. We decided to open up slowly, weekday Mass initially, as there was slight trepidation. After all, we had the health and safety of our faith community in our hands. The first days went well, the training had given us confidence, and with the pews marked off, the two-metre distance in place, we were eventually, able to open up for all Masses.

It was and remains a surreal experience – greeting our masked neighbours as they arrive, pointing to sanitisers and directing to seats. Did we ever think we would see the day—but it is better than closed doors.

People have been so accepting and understanding. Even when the seat they have always liked is not available, the draught from the door is too cold, or the walk back from Communion is too long, all have been borne graciously. We miss our choir and folk group and the dimension they add to our liturgies. We even miss the sign of peace or nod to a neighbour. We miss the dip in the water font and the gathering as a community outside the Church. We miss the handshake when attending funerals. All such rituals have comfort of their own. But there is a resilience about us that we never knew we had.

It was so lovely to see the brave First Communicants come to the Church with the bare minimum of parents or guardians. Despite Covid and restrictions, they bounded in as excited as ever on their special day. Although the hustle and bustle and music were not the same, there was a silent gracefulness that filled the air and marked them out as central. Different but so meaningful. Such resilience.

Like them, we as a faith community are pulling together. The large number of volunteers is a testament to our claiming ownership of Church/Parish/Faith Community. We are accepting responsibilities, and we realise, as the motto says, “We are all in this together.”

It has been a difficult time, but through it all, we have witnessed gratitude, appreciation, resilience and hope for the future. Perhaps this dreadful pandemic might usher in some new perspectives.

By Mary Barry